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Greetings from the Project on Middle East Democracy!
Last week, U.S. officials took a tougher line on Syria as Assad regime allies pledged to keep fighting pro-democracy protesters. The Syrian military continued to lay siege to various cities and around the country. In Yemen, violence erupted again as President Saleh continued his refusal to sign a GCC-proposed transition agreement. In Congress, a resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria was introduced that expressed support for peaceful demonstrations. Hearings were also held on the deteriorating state of human rights in Iran and Bahrain. This week, look for the news to continue to be dominated by events in Syria.
For more detailed coverage of the debates surrounding U.S. foreign policy and the prospects for democracy in the Middle East, be sure to check out our blog, the POMED Wire.
Also, POMED's Weekly Wire is now available in Arabic - to register to receive the Arabic version by email, please click here.
The Weekly Wire
A bipartisan group of senators including Joe Lieberman
(I-CT), John McCain
(R-AZ), Ben Cardin
(D-MD) and Marco Rubio
(R-FL) unveiled S.RES.180
, “expressing support for peaceful demonstrations and universal freedoms in Syria and condemning the human rights violations by the Assad regime.” The resolution also calls on the Obama administration to increase
pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs held a hearing
entitled “Human Rights and Democratic Reform in Iran.” Assistant Secretary of State Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Michael H. Posner
; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Philo L. Dibble
; Kambiz Hosseini
, from Voice of America; Senior Program Manager at Freedom House, Andrew Apostolou
; and Rudi Bakhtiar
,Communications Director International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, all testified before the subcommittee. For full testimonies, click here
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee also held a hearing entitled, “Assessing the Situation in Libya,” requesting the testimony
of Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg
. The hearing was chaired by Senator John Kerry
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held
a hearing on human rights in Bahrain. The hearing was chaired by Reps. James McGovern
(D-MA) and Frank Wolf
(R-VA), who requested the testimony of Joe Stork,
Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch; Maryam al-Khawaja
of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights; and Richard Sollom,
Deputy Director at Physicians for Human Rights. William J. Burns
, Under Secretary for Political Affairs at the State Department and Jeffrey D. Feltman
, Assistant Secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, declined invitations to attend.
Analysts Criticize U.S. on Syria: Simon Tisdall calls
western defense of Bashar al-Assad
as a legitimate leader “morally-bankrupt” and “nakedly self-interested.” The general depiction of Assad as a thwarted reformer, surrounded by reactionary “old guards,” is incorrect. Elliott Abrams criticized
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
for continuing to call for reform in Syria rather than Assad’s departure. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
the Syrian government’s recent actions and stated that using “tanks and bullets” will not solve the country’s economic challenges. White House spokesman Jay Carney
the Syrian government’s use of violence stating that such actions create more instability.
George Mitchell Resigns:
The Obama administration’s special Mideast envoy, former Senator George Mitchell
, announced plans to resign
after more than two years of trying to press Israel and the Palestinians into peace talks.
Realigning US Policy in the Middle East:
This week President Barack Obama
the administration’s vision for the region in light of dramatic shifts currently underway in the Middle East and the death of Osama bin Laden
. Obama’s speech will also follow the visit
of Jordan’s King Abdullah II
and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
to Washington next week. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed
her belief that transitioning governments in the region should respect its people’s rights to freedom of expression, religion and dress. She also stated that the United States needs to stand as a counterweight to the “ideological foes of democracy.”
‘Strategic Dialogue’ with Islamists Needed: Shadi Hamid argues
that the U.S. will have to accept a larger role for Islamist parties in emerging democracies in the Arab world. Hamid argues that mainstream Islamist groups like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or the Tunisian Ennahda party have strong pragmatic tendencies and have shown willingness to compromise on core issues regarding their policies and their ideologies.
Call for U.S. Pressure on Bahrain: Michael Bronner
and John Farmer Jr. called
on the Obama administration to pressure the Bahraini government to release Bahraini opposition politician Matar Ebrahim Ali Matar
who was abducted
by security forces last week along with Jawad Fairuz
, another al-Wefaq member and former parliamentarian.
Also Worth Reading
its annual report
on human rights, saying that while the uprisings across the Middle East have given rise to hope, there is serious backlash that must be dealt with if true success is to be realized. While uprisings unseated leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, they have been halted by violence and repression in Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
From the Middle East
Analysts Debate Regional Balance Shifts: Paul Salem notes
that the regional uprisings have not caused any shift in the region’s strategic
balance. Rather than gaining influence, Iran’s soft power has decreased, while Saudi Arabia remains worried about the effect of these transformations on maintaining its sphere of influence in the Gulf. Marc Lynch discussed
the implications of the recent invitations for Jordan and Morocco to apply for membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Lynch believes these countries offer the council the hope of creating a strong alliance of Sunni monarchies in the Middle East to counter revolutionary forces and Iran. On Syria, Steven Cook discusses
the formation of an “unthinkable coalition” of Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and Iran, who have all come to the Assad’s defense out of fear of an alternative to the Assad regime. Amidst regional turmoil Egyptian foreign minister, Nabil Elaraby
, was appointed
head of the Arab League during this period of unprecedented change in the region.
Tunisia Creates Independent Electoral Body:
Tunisia has created
an independent body for elections planned in July to shape the country’s democratic future. The elections, scheduled for July 24, will select an assembly to write a new constitution. The independent body will be composed of
lawyers, accountants, and university representatives.
Muslim Brotherhood Leader to Run for Egypt Presidency: Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh
that he will run for president as an independent, defying the Muslim Brotherhood’s previous decision not to field a candidate. Disagreements between Abouel Fotouh and other Brotherhood leaders led to his exclusion from the Guidance Bureau; however, he still commands a strong following among younger members.
Human Rights Violations in Bahrain:
Al Jazeera was able to conduct a secret interview
with a 16-year-old Bahraini girl, pseudonym “Heba,” about her and her friends’ three-day detention by Bahraini security forces at the height of the government’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Amnesty International (AI) called
on the Bahraini government to ensure that the military trial of 21 prominent opposition leaders and human rights activists meets international standards. AI claims that the Bahraini government denied detainees their basic rights in addition to torturing them. AI is also urging
the U.S. government to send its ambassador in Bahrain to monitor the trial.
Violence in Yemen Continues:
Last week, at least 10 people were killed
and 226 people were injured in clashes between protesters and Yemeni security forces during demonstrations against President Ali Abdullah Saleh‘s
refusal to step down. Abdul Hafez Noman
, a leader of Yemen’s opposition Baath party stated
that the opposition still favors the agreement
brokered by the GCC which allows Saleh to leave office with immunity. Amnesty International had called
on the Yemeni government to halt the use of deadly force ahead of the planned protests.In a State Department press release, Mark Toner condemned
the recent violence in Yemen and called for the security forces to exercise restraint. Toner reiterated U.S. support for the GCC’s May 10th statement
(Arabic) which calls on parties in Yemen to sign the agreement. A GCC negotiator met with opposition and regime representatives over the weekend in an attempt to restart
the stalled negotiations.
Call to Boycott Saudi Municipal Elections:
Online activists called
(Arabic) on Saudis to boycott September’s municipal elections unless greater political freedoms, such as the right for women to run, are granted. Women will not be allowed to vote in the elections.
Syria Isolated in International Community, Egypt Quietly Supporting:
The Turtle Bay blog at Foreign Policy obtained
confidential documents from U.N. negotiations demonstrating that Egypt has been providing Syria with diplomatic cover. Egypt not only supported efforts to derail a U.N. Security Council vote against Syria, but actively proposed resolutions affirming the “principle of non-interference” in matters of state. Syria has dropped
its bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council; Kuwait will replace it as a candidate. Kuwait’s ambassador to the U.N. stated
that Syria had not withdrawn its nomination completely, but that the two countries were simply swapping terms.
Syrian Military Shells Homs, Crackdown Widens: Rami Makhlouf
, cousin to President Bashar al-Assad
, has said
that the regime will continue to fight pro-democracy protesters. Syrian military tanks shelled
a residential district in the city of Homs last week. Nearly 500 people have also been arrested in Homs since last Wednesday. Syrian security forces also broke up
a demonstration by thousands of students in Aleppo. Protests were held
across Syria on Friday. President Bashar al-Assad
ordered troops not to fire on pro-democracy demonstrators ahead of Friday’s rallies. Al Jazeera English journalist Dorothy Parvaz
, who was held
in Syrian state custody for two weeks, was deported
from the country to Iran. She is reportedly now being held by Iranian authorities in Tehran, and AJE is calling for her immediate release. Violence continued
over the weekend as gunshots could be heard from a town on the Syria-Lebanon border, as hundreds attempt to flee to Lebanon to escape violence.
Sectarianism Re-emerges in Egypt: Michael Wahid Hanna addresses
the sectarian divide between Christians and Muslims following the violence in the Imbaba neighborhood in Cairo. Colleen Gillard
and Georgia Wells chronicle
reactions to the attack from local Copts, many of whom have mixed feelings regarding Mubarak’s fall from power. Clashes
between Coptic Christians and unidentified assailants at a sit-in near the state television building in Cairo have left 78 people injured.
Libyan Opposition Leader Calls for Recognition: Mahmoud Gebril Elwarfally
, interim Prime Minister for the Transitional National Council in Libya, asserts
that the Libyan people continue to fight to establish a democratic Libya, but they need increased support. He called on the international community to intensify NATO operations, officially recognize the council, accelerate access to frozen Libyan assets, and sustain humanitarian aid.
Iraqi Unity Government in Jeopardy: Infighting
between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
and his rival Iyad Allawi
has put the unity government deal in danger of collapsing. Maliki has threatened to dissolve parliament for Allawi and the Iraqiya bloc’s behavior while Allawi and allies have threatened a vote of no confidence against Maliki if their grievances are not addressed.
Turkish Political Polarization: Soner Cagaptay discusses
the importance of Turkey’s high parliamentary electoral threshold (10%). This threshold has prevented small center-right and center-left parties from gaining seats in parliament and has led to the current polarization of the political system between the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Lebanese Government Deal Near:
Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati
has reportedly come
to an agreement on the interior ministry portfolio candidate after four months of wrangling between parties had held up the formation of a new government. The new government’s main task will be to form
a unified stance in light of upcoming U.N. indictments on the killing of former PM Rafik Hariri
In Case You Missed It
On Monday (5/9), The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted
on the economic and political outlook of the Middle East and North Africa following the recent uprisings. Uri Dadush,
director of Carnegie’s International Economics Program moderated the event and introduced the panelists: Marwan Muasher,
vice president for studies at the Carnegie; Michele Dunne,
senior associate at Carnegie and Masood Ahmed,
Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund.
On Thursday (5/12), the Woodrow Wilson Center held a panel discussion entitled: “Upheaval in the Middle East: What is Turkey’s Strategy
.” Andri Oriphanides,
of the Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated the discussion. Renowned Turkish journalist, Semih Dundar Idiz
, and Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, Ian Lesser
, presented on the panel.
On Tuesday (5/10), the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) held a panel entitled, “Lebanon and the Arab Spring: A Congressional View of Lebanon’s Roles Amidst Historic change in the Region.”
USIP President Richard Solomon
gave introductory remarks. Mona Yacoubian,
Senior Program Officer for the Middle East and Director of the Lebanon Working Group, moderated the panel. Congressman Charles Boustany
(R-LA), the son of Lebanese immigrants, offered his perspective on how Lebanon is fairing in the midst of the ‘Arab Spring.”
The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) held
an all-day conference last week entitled “Democratization and Conflict in the Arab World: Challenges, Opportunities and Dangers.” The first panel featured USIP’s Steve Heydemann
and Daniel Brumberg
, as well asPeter Mandaville
of the U.S. State Department and David Waldner
from the University of Virginia. USIP also held
a panel entitled, “Lebanon and the Arab Spring: A Congressional View of Lebanon’s Roles Amidst Historic Change in the Region.” Congressman Charles Boustany
(R-LA) offered his perspective on how Lebanon is fairing in the midst of the ‘Arab Spring.”